Over the weekend, Tommy Christopher posted a recap of Paul Rieckhoff’s bust up with Glenn Greenwald on Bill Maher over Ed Snowden and the NSA leaks. Tommy’s summary of the exchange was fairly explicit in his headline: “Iraq War Vet Mops Floor With Glenn Greenwald On Real Time With Bill Maher.” His reading was that Greenwald failed to make a coherent argument that Snowden’s NSA leaks didn’t hurt anyone, and simply “demands it not to be so his buddy can stop getting more of them killed.” Reickhoff, Tommy argued, pushed Greenwald hard on the issue of Snowden’s bravery and his assertion that US soldiers are terrorists when invading other people’s countries.
Esquire‘s Charles Pierce weighed in on the issue yesterday, rebutting Tommy and “the mopped-floor brigade”, arguing that, “It’s far from unreasonable to assume that, if there was definitive evidence that Snowden’s leaks have resulted in the death of an American agent, or even if a fairly plausible lie to that effect could be constructed, it would be in the New York Times by the next morning.” Pierce said he saw no evidence of any winners, adding a little side swipe to those who think leaking state secrets might not always be a good idea: “But I am just one of those goofy children who don’t understand How The World Works,” he wrote.
The truth is though, no one has any idea whether Americans (or anyone else) have died due to Snowden’s leaks, so it’s sort of pointless to be adamant one way or the other. It’s clearly a possibility though, as Greenwald himself admitted when The Intercept withheld the name of a nation the US was spying on (so perhaps Greenwald does understand How The World Works).
Regardless, Reickhoff did wipe the floor with Greenwald, but not necessarily for the reasons Pierce argued against.
I’d like to preface my argument with the fact that I happen to think the Snowden leaks were generally a good thing, and it has shone much needed light on an agency in clear need of oversight. The leaks made Americans aware that their government had far too much access to their personal data, and that forced changes that were ultimately necessary. I also have some sympathy with the notion that invading forces can be labeled as ‘terrorists.’ For those on the brutal receiving end of US military might, American soldiers don’t always look like liberators. However, it’s not a helpful definition in my opinion, given the US military wasn’t created for the sole purpose of creating terror, while organizations like Al Qaeda explicitly target civilians through the use of terror. Greenwald doesn’t see this nuance of course, as it counters his narrative that the US is Bad, and the rest of the world is Good.
I also think that Snowden has severely undermined his own cause by nauseatingly saddling up to the likes of Vladimir Putin, a notorious thug who controls a state which puts US oppression to shame. Greenwald has also done immense damage to the issue by injecting his own radical agenda at every given opportunity. The duo have turned the issue into a bizarre religion, where followers must bow down to the heroism of Snowden who died so that we could be free. (Except he didn’t – he fled to Russia to get a nice job working for a large website). Greenwald and his followers insist that their chosen crusade is the only fight worth fighting, and anyone skeptical is a government shill and an Obama apologist.
This binary thinking was on full display during Greenwald’s spat with Reickhoff, a proud soldier who has seen the reality of conflict firsthand and understands a world filled with grey, not the black and white Greenwald insists there is. Reickhoff implored Greenwald to try and see nuance, but Greenwald wouldn’t (or couldn’t). If ever there was a better snapshot of Greenwald’s arrogance and flippant attitude towards anyone who disagrees with him, it came by the way of a tweet after Maher’s show. Reickhoff sent out a classy tweet after leaving the set:
— Paul (PJ) Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) June 21, 2014
Greenwald on the other hand, seemed to forget the friendly drink and sent out the following barb a few hours later:
Can you definitively prove that your last tweet didn't result in the deaths of CIA agents?
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 21, 2014
The truth is, issues of war, spying and civil liberties are incredibly complicated, and cannot be neatly packaged into a Good vs Evil narrative. Reickhoff acknowledges this, and acknowledges his own fallibility when it comes to navigating them. In other words, he behaved like an adult – and for that reason, he mopped the floor with Greenwald who was made to look like a petulant child all by himself.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.